Thursday, November 21, 2013

Novel Inspiration

Writing is writing, right?

I should be writing my novel.  NaNoWrimo is over halfway through and, though I am making fairly steady (if slow) progress, I'm not as far along as I'd like to be. Instead, I am going to procrastinate for a while by reflecting on today's pep talk, courtesy of Lev Grossman. 

Like any aspiring author, especially one who writes for a young adult audience, I am angsty and filled with self-doubt. Will I ever finish even one of the partially finished drafts that are piling up around me? 

Lev says, "It astounds me every time, but the books get done. How? It's not about having some triumphant breakthrough moment. Being a novelist is a matter of keeping at it, day after day, just putting words after other words. It's a war of inches, where the hardest part is keeping your nerve. The number one reason why people who want to write novels don't is that they lose their nerve and quit."

Wow, it's like he just popped his head into my cluttered living room and prodded me with a stick to quit procrastinating and WRITE.

And then he goes on to say, "To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people's published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn't know."

They didn't know? Are you sure, Lev? because I've spent years listening to teachers analyze  texts for symbolism and theme and all that literary stuff. That authors don't have everything figured out from the start is exciting and frightening in equal measure. Do you mean that I still get to write if I have no clear idea of how it's all going to play out? Oh shit, does that mean I can't use being clueless as an excuse not to write?

Reading this pep talk reminded me of the first time I tried to highlight the important ideas in a college textbook. I highlighted entire pages, which really wasn't all that helpful, except that it made my book look pretty.  That said, here's the best part of this pep talk:

"What you're feeling is not only normal: it's a good sign. A writer--someone once said--is a person for whom writing is difficult. That resistance you're feeling is proof that you're digging deep. To write a novel is to lose your way and find it over, and over, and over again."

Talk about deep. Oh, wait a minute. Did I say that was the best part? I highlighted even more:

"A lousy draft proves nothing. Rough drafts are rough--everybody's are. Being a writer isn't like being a musician. You don't have to get it right every day. The wonderful thing about being a writer is, you only have to get it right once. That's all anyone will ever see. The  only bad draft is the one that doesn't get finished."

Oh, SNAP. You get me, Lev. Truly.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nanowrimo: The Dreaded Week Two Doldrums

I'm in the midst of NaNoWriMo again. That's National Novel Writing Month for those of you not in the know. I'm writing as a rebel this month, that is, editing and adding to a novel that I started during NaNoWriMo 2011 and never actually finished.

Since I was already well into my story, I hoped I might be able to skip the week two "I hate my novel and everything about it" phase that is so common during week two. And I have, sort of. I actually don't hate my novel, although the dystopian setting is a horribly unpleasant reminder of why the separation of church and state is such an important foundation to any civilized society. My characters certainly hate their world, which is why they are trying to escape.

I am satisfied with much of what I have written so far, especially since I am less concerned with word count padding and more with getting some solid work done that a decent editor can help me tweak into something worth reading. It's not perfect, but so far, I have an exciting story and some characters who are gradually becoming more rounded and complex as I go. But...

I have reached a point where I have no clue what comes next. And my characters aren't talking to me. I've tried to force myself to create an outline, but it's just not happening. I'm pretty sure that one of my main characters (and probably a couple of my minor characters) have to die, but the how and the why of it are eluding me.

So here's the crux of my struggle with NaNoWriMo. Do I write a bunch of crap that I'll have to spend time weeding out later, or do I stick with my habitual edit-as-I-go writing style and hope that inspiration will strike me at some point? I know that the point of NaNoWriMo is to write as much as possible, even if 90% of it is crap. And I see the benefit in writing what's in you without judging--sometimes the fear of a blank page is so paralyzing that nothing ever gets done. On the other hand, I'm not doing NaNoWriMo simply for bragging rights about an inflated word count that means nothing. I want to come out of this month (or the next, or the next) with a draft that I don't have to be embarrassed to show to a reader.

And so far, only my mom has seen this story. She likes it, but she's my mom--that's kind of in the job description!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Nanowrimo November 2013

NaNoWriMo is here again and I've let almost a week of potential writing greatness pass me by. I have two half-written novels and one partially-written (and poorly- illustrated) children's book to my credit after participating in this writing adventure for six years. I kinda like much of what I've written so far, but can't seem to actually finish anything. 

Any way you slice it, whether it's the graph showing total words written:

or the graph showing words written and percentage of goal achieved:


or the calendar showing good and bad writing days:

it's simply not a pretty (or a productive) picture.

As much as I love the idea of NaNoWriMo, I haven't been brave enough to go for it the way I should.  So here I am, putting up multiple views of my paltry progress, hoping that knowing that, maybe, somebody might be watching, I'll be more motivated to do the hard work of getting 'er done. Even though I'm almost a week behind, I'm confident that I can rock the word count this weekend and make some solid progress toward my goal for the month. 

The next hurdle will be putting my words to the test of actual readers...gasp!